October 2015 will mark the conclusion of construction on the $58 million Buffalo Bayou Park project, master planned and designed by the Houston studio of SWA. This thoroughly renovated, 160-acre, 2.3-mile public space, sometimes described as “Houston’s Central Park,” not only features beloved destinations old and new, but also deploys a vigorous agenda of urban ecological services and improved pedestrian accessibility. The more extensive Buffalo Bayou remediation project, of which Buffalo Bayou Park is a part, has transformed a polluted urban eyesore into a nationally significant, naturalized amenity for central Houston.
Buffalo Bayou Park lies just west of downtown Houston, on either side of Buffalo Bayou and between two busy arterials, Memorial Drive and Allen Parkway. The completed park transforms an overlooked space into a city centerpiece. Existing destinations such as Eleanor Tinsley Park and the Wortham Foundation Grove have been re-envisioned, while new features were added, including the Johnny Steele Dog Park, Lost Lake and The Dunlavy event space, The Water Works and Wortham Insurance Visitor Center, and the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area.
Before the renovation, “Hardcore users found their way in, but it was relatively unsafe and mostly underutilized because the area is flanked by big roadways,” said SWA principal Scott McCready. “Our client, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, wanted to broaden the opportunity for the park’s enjoyment. Now anyone can just drop into the park. You might have a child with you, or be elderly; it’s not just for the young and athletic.”
Connectivity within the park and to surrounding neighborhoods is enhanced with two new pedestrian bridges designed by SWA. These new bridges join the existing pedestrian network, including the Rosemont and Shepherd Drive bridges, to increase connectivity and offer greater mobility within the park to a larger population.
The landscape strategies developed by SWA in concert with the Harris County Flood Control District provide critical environmental services both within the park and downstream. The design utilizes channel stabilization techniques through enhancement of the bayou’s natural meanders, offering increased resiliency against floodwaters. This method represents a sharp break from the midcentury style of straightening and channelizing the bayou. Landscape-based flood control also preserves the beauty of this culturally significant waterway. Additionally, SWA’s planting strategy reduced mowed turf by half, replacing it with riparian woodlands and naturalized meadows featuring native species. This further stabilizes the landscape, provides habitat, and uses characteristic Texan species to return a sense of place to the city.
“Buffalo Bayou Partnership has enjoyed more than a decade-old working relationship with SWA,” says Anne Olson, President of Buffalo Bayou Partnership. “The firm has worked on numerous projects and planning efforts for our organization. We have valued this long-term partnership and are proud of the work we have accomplished together.”
Images | Courtesy of SWA